Who Wrote Anonymous NYT Op-ed About Trump? WikiLeaks Shares Likely Traits Based on Language Analysis

Since Wednesday, when The New York Times published an anonymous op-ed written by a senior official in President Donald Trump’s administration, many people and organizations have put forth their own theories as to who the writer might be, including WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks tweeted that it had conducted a statistical analysis of the language the author used in the op-ed and determined that the writer was likely an older, conservative male, which, as some have pointed out, doesn’t narrow down the suspects all that much.

WikiLeaks also recommended that whoever wrote the article should consult adversarial stylometry and forensic-author profiling to protect himself, or herself.

Stylometry has been used to determine the author of written work in historical, literary and criminal investigations. It analyzes the linguistic formation of a document, while traditional methods often relied on the belief that a person wasn’t trying to conceal his or her identity.

Adversarial stylometry, however, presumes that authors of a document deliberately modified their writing style. A research paper on the topic found that adversarial stylometry could reduce the effectiveness of traditional methods of identification by more than 95 percent.

Former WikiLeaks spokesman Daniel Domscheitt-Berg noted in his book, Inside WikiLeaks, that had someone run the WikiLeaks documents through a program that analyzed the writing, it would have been quickly discovered that the same two people wrote the press releases, document summaries and correspondence.  

Based on the assumption that each person has a unique way of writing, similar to a fingerprint, investigators consider a person’s word choice, spelling, punctuation and the words put next to each other in a text.

Computer science and data expert Shlomo Argamon of the Illinois Institute of Technology told the Times of Israel that, for example, an analysis would consider if the author wrote “different from” or “different than.” Argamon said women tended to use the first and second person pronouns “I,” “me” and “you,” and present tense more than men did.

But Argamon wasn’t certain stylometry would work on The Times opinion piece, because it wasn’t necessarily only the author’s words. He told the Times of Israel that the paper’s editing staff likely made changes for style, and to do a proper comparison, samples would have to be collected from all suspects.

Some pointed to the presence of the word “lodestar,” which was used to describe the late Senator John McCain, as a possible clue that Vice President Mike Pence had written the op-ed. But Rachel Greenstadt from Drexel University said  the presence of “lodestar” seemed too deliberately aimed at Pence, who had used that word previously in speeches.

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway explained that because the person had been identified as a senior administration official, it could be any one of hundreds of people and didn’t necessarily mean it was someone who worked in the White House.

The online bookmaker MyBookie pegged the top five suspects as Pence, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Chief of Staff John Kelly.

Among the administration officials who have denied writing the opinion piece are:

The author of The Times op-ed claimed to be a member of a “resistance” that was “working diligently from within” the Trump administration. While the word “resistance” is usually associated with opposition, the author wrote that the resistance inside the White House wanted the administration to succeed and believed many of its policies had been beneficial. 

The White House resistance, the author wrote, was “to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses” until he goes from “president” to “former president.”

Trump, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and first lady Melania Trump have called out the anonymous author as being a “coward” or “gutless,” and urged The Times to reveal the person’s identity.

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